Allow me to introduce to you sophomore forwards Spencer Thompson and Amani Walker of the UC Irvine men’s soccer team — the epitome of “Dynamic Duo.”
Dynamic: Walker and Thompson have been wreaking havoc on opposing defenses all season long. Thompson is tied for the team lead in goals with five, and Walker’s control with the ball has created numerous chances for himself and others in front of the net. Their play, along with the play of their dangerous attacking midfield, has brought back a scoring threat to the UCI offense, a feature the team lacked for much of last season as it finished far below expectations. They are a big reason why UCI is on a rebound season and has an impressive record of 7-1-3.
They each possess quick skill sets to explode away from defenders on breakaway runs and to get to through passes by their teammates. Coach George Kuntz likes to add another “D” word to their label for that reason: “Dynamite.”
Opponents have caught on with their talent and now set double and triple teams hoping to contain the fire. However, Saturday night’s 80th minute play between the two was a strong indication that this strategy won’t work for much longer.
On the play, Thompson received the ball near the right sideline on the UC Santa Barbara side of the field and used an explosive move to his right to fool the defender into the opposite direction. He then muscled his way down the sideline where he passed the ball to Walker’s feet right on the edge of the six-yard box. Walker trapped a firm pass that most other college players would lose, successfully held off the defender with his superb shielding of the ball, turned to his left, and unfortunately, blasted a shot that grazed off the crossbar. Even with a man advantage, UCI could not muster any offense on UCSB, but once Walker returned in the second half at the 78th minute, the Thompson-Walker connection immediately provided chances.
Each player’s move on the play was reflective of the styles of their favorite footballers in Europe. Like Thierry Henry of Barcelona, Walker created space and exhibited masterful touch on the ball. Like Didier Drogba of Chelsea, Thompson received the ball on his foot and used his agility and strength to create a path to the net.
Thompson and Walker both recognize that they play best together because they complement each other.
“We have similar styles, but different strengths,” Thompson said.
At 6 feet 2 inches, Walker has the length to play the ball well with his head. His size does not hinder his exceptional foot skills. His finesse with the ball at his feet deceives opponents and feeds teammates on the run.
While Walker’s surprise is his finesse with the ball despite of his height, Spencer’s surprise is his power.
“Spencer can trap the ball so well with his feet with his back to the goal, and use his strength and power to turn and send the ball into the net,” Walker said.
He does not carry an imposing or intimidating physical presence, but that deception catches defenders off guard. His force earned him the nickname “Freight Train.”
This “similar styles with different strengths” attribute keeps opponents in uncertain anticipation, thus leading the plethora of scoring opportunities for them and the team. Together they have launched 58 shots. You know what they say, “The more you shoot, the more you can score.”
It was only a matter of time before these two began connecting with each other and the net. Their skills were never a secret or surprise.
Walker was the CIF Soccer Player of the Year as a high school senior in San Diego, and Thompson broke former Anteater Brad Evans’ state goal record in Arizona high school soccer with a whopping 84 in his career. Evans, who plays in Major League Soccer for the Columbus Crew, was a big reason why UCI landed Thompson out of high school. They both had the same club and high school coaches in Arizona. Their futures look bright.
However, bringing in two exceptional talents doesn’t always translate into success. There is a chemistry that is needed, and Thompson and Walker found that chemistry off the field.
Duo: Coach Kuntz knew he had a steal when he brought in these two high-profile recruits. They would bring success to his program, but that success would not be maximized unless they knew how to play together. That is why Coach Kuntz put Walker and Thompson on the phone with each other when they both signed. He did not stop there. He had Thompson and Walker dorm together last year as freshmen in Jardin of Mesa Court.
“I could not have asked for a better roommate; he was so laid-back,” Walker said of Thompson.
They both spent time together on the field in games and practices, found interest in almost every activity and excelled in school. Both are also Big West Scholar Athletes. Just as their play on the field works with checks and balances, they checked each other with school and life.
Aside from Walker’s failure from keeping his side of the dorm tidy, the only thing they passionately disagree on is music.
Thompson enjoys all kinds of music from Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” to an appreciation of country, which Walker despises.
Walker’s favorite genre of music is reggae, which is fitting considering his dreadlocks (Walker is of Jamaican heritage). His father did not allow him to grow the dreads until he educated himself in the culture of his country. He did so, and got his dreads done on a summer trip to Europe before his freshman year at UCI.
Walker urged his roommate and teammate to dread his hair, but Thompson joked that “there can only be one dreaded person per team.”
Thompson and Walker’s special bond has translated on the field. They always communicate whether it’s with their feet or with their speech. Just by looking at their facial expressions when they look at each other on certain plays is evidence that these two are on the same page.
“[Freshman year] we would have long walks back from practice. We could talk about the game, and what each other did. It helped build a bond and now we usually know where each one of us is on the field,” Walker said.
The term “Dynamic Duo” may not even be appropriate for these two on the field—they practically operate as one.
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